Cross of Sacrifice

Cross of Sacrifice
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Cross of Sacrifice

The Cross of Sacrifice is a Commonwealth war memorial designed in 1918 by Sir Reginald Blomfield for the Imperial War Graves Commission (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission). It is present in Commonwealth war cemeteries containing 40 or more graves. Its shape is an elongated Latin cross with proportions more typical of the Celtic cross, with the shaft and cross-arm octagonal in section. It ranges in height from 5.5 to 7.3 m. A bronze long-sword, blade down, is affixed to the front of the cross (and sometimes to the back as well). It is usually mounted on an octagonal base. It may be freestanding or incorporated into other cemetery features. The Cross of Sacrifice is widely praised, widely imitated, and the archetypal British war memorial. It is the most imitated of Commonwealth war memorials, and duplicates and imitations have been used around the world.

Designing the Cross of Sacrifice

Kenyon, Baker, and Blomfield all submitted cross designs to the senior architects’ committee. Kenyon submitted two draft designs, one for a Celtic cross and one for a medieval Christian cross (both typically found in old English cemeteries). Baker, who had advocated the cemetery theme of “crusade” since July 1917 and submitted the design of a stone Christian cross with a bronze long-sword on the front. His design, which he called the “Ypres cross”, also included a bronze image of a naval sailing ship, emblematic of the Royal Navy’s role in winning both the Crusades and the First World War.

Blomfield, on the other hand, took a different approach to the cross. He rejected Kenyon’s design, arguing that “runic monuments or gothic crosses had nothing to do with the grim terrors of the trenches.” Blomfield wanted a design that reflected the war, which had stripped away any notions about glory in combat and nobility in death on the battlefield. “What I wanted to do in designing this Cross was to make it as abstract and impersonal as I could, to free it from any association of any particular style, and, above all, to keep clear of any sentimentalism of the Gothic. This was a man’s war far too terrible for any fripperies, and I hoped to get within range of the infinite in this symbol…” His design featured an elongated cross of abstract design, on the front of which was a bronze long-sword, blade pointed downward. It was intended to be an overtly Christian symbol, in contrast to Lutyen’s Stone of Remembrance (which was purposefully stripped of any such associations). Blomfield drew the inspiration for the sword from a sword which hung in his home in Rye.

The senior architects’ committee quickly endorsed the Blomfield design. The committee considered adding text to the base or steps of the cross, but rejected this idea.

In order to ensure that the architects’ ideas for Commonwealth cemeteries worked well in the field, the IWGC decided to fund the construction of three experimental cemeteries Le Tréport, Forceville, and Louvencourt. The goal was to determine how expensive the cemeteries were likely to be. The model cemeteries were designed by Baker, Lutyens, and Blomfield, and began construction in May 1918. Due to problems with construction, none were complete until early 1920, six months later than planned. Each model cemetery had a chapel and shelter, but no Stone of Remembrance or Cross of Sacrifice. Nevertheless, even without these major additions, the cemeteries were too expensive.

The model cemeteries experiment changed the way the Stone of Remembrance was placed in cemeteries, and almost changed the design of the Cross of Sacrifice itself. To reduce costs, Blomfield offered to design a wide variation of Crosses, many of which were less costly than the original design. But the committee of senior architects rejected his offer. What became apparent with the experimental cemeteries is that a full-size Cross or Stone was appropriate only for the largest cemeteries. Mid-size and smaller cemeteries needed smaller memorials. Blomfield quickly designed two smaller-sized Crosses to accommodate this need. But Lutyens refused to allow anything but a full-sized War Stone 3.7 m in length and 1.5 m in height) to be used. Subsequently, and partly as a cost-saving measure, no Stone of Remembrance was erected in a cemetery with fewer than 400 graves. Budgetary issues also led the committee to agree that shelters should be forgone in any cemetery with fewer than 200 graves.

The model cemeteries experiment also helped the architects decide where to place the Cross of Sacrifice. As early as 1917, Lutyens and Kenyon had agreed that the War Stone should be in the east, but facing west. (All graves were supposed to face east, facing the enemy, although many of the earliest cemeteries had graves facing in other [sometimes in many different] directions.) The initial idea was to have the Cross of Sacrifice be in opposition to the Stone. In practice, however, the placement of the Cross of Sacrifice varied widely.

The model cemeteries experiment also had one other effect, and that was to make Blomfield’s design for the cross the only one ever used by the IWGC. The original intent of the senior architects had been to allow each junior architect to design his own cross for his own cemetery. But Blomfield’s design proved so wildly popular that the decision was made to implement it as a standard feature in all cemeteries.

About the Cross of Sacrifice

The Cross of Sacrifice is carved from white stone. This is usually Portland stone, but it is sometimes granite or any type of white limestone commonly found in France or Belgium. In Italy, Chiampo Perla limestone was used. The proportions of the cross, with short arms close to the top of the shaft are similar to some Celtic crosses, the cross-arm being one-third the length of the shaft (as measured from the point where the shaft emerges from the base). The cross consists of three pieces: The shaft, from base to cross-arm; the cross-arm; and the upper shaft, above the cross-arm. The cross-arm is fastened to the lower and upper shaft by two bronze dowels. A joggle (a portion of the shaft which extends into the base, acting as a joint) about 15 cm long extends into the base, where it is secured by another bronze dowel. The shaft and cross-arm are both octagonal in shape, and the shaft tapers slightly as it rises to give the cross entasis(a slight convex curve in the shaft of a column, introduced to correct the visual illusion of concavity produced by a straight shaft). On the large size version, there are three plain mouldings on the shaft near the base, often reduced to one in smaller sizes, and the three extremities of the cross finish at a plain moulding projecting sideways from the main element. The cross-arms are sometimes irregular octagons in section, with four wide faces at front, back, top and bottom, and four shorter faces in between them.

A stylized bronze long-sword, point down, is fastened to the front of the cross. The cross is designed so that a second bronze sword may be fastened to the rear as well. The sword is positioned so that the cross-guard on the sword matches where the cross’ shaft and cross-arm meet.

The position of the Cross of Sacrifice in Commonwealth war cemeteries varies depending on a wide range of factors. Many cemeteries were laid out haphazardly during the war. The role of the junior designing architect was to determine the position of the Cross (and Stone of Remembrance) in relationship to the graves. Most cemeteries had two axes—a main axis and an entrance axis, or a main/entrance axis and a lateral axis. An overriding guiding principle was that the War Stone should be the focus of the cemetery. The Cross of Sacrifice, however, usually functioned as the primary orienting feature of the cemetery for visitors, due to its height. In hilly areas, the architect had to ensure that the cross was visible from the road or path. When a road passed directly by the cemetery, the cross usually was placed near the road and the entrance to the cemetery associated with the cross. These design considerations meant that the Cross of Sacrifice could be placed in a wide variety of places. Sometimes it was situated next to the War Stone, and sometimes in opposition to it. In some cases, the Cross of Sacrifice was placed in a distant corner of the cemetery, so that its relationship to the Stone of Remembrance was not clear.

It was not necessary for the Cross of Sacrifice to stand alone, either. In some cases, it was incorporated into a wall or benches. The placement of the Cross of Sacrifice affected other elements of the cemetery. The architect’s choice of buildings to erect—double shelters, galleries, gateways, pergolas, sheltered alcoves, or single shelters—depended on the location of the War Stone, the Cross of Sacrifice, and the size of the cemetery.

A Cross of Sacrifice was erected in almost every Commonwealth war cemetery. Subsequent Commonwealth War Graves Commission policy has erected the cross Commonwealth war cemeteries with 40 or more graves. There were only a handful of exceptions. No cross was erected in cemeteries which held a majority of Chinese or Indian graves. In Turkey, no cross was erected in order to accommodate local Muslim feelings. Instead, a simple Latin cross was carved into a stone slab, which was placed at the rear of the cemetery. In Macedonia, a cairn (a mound of rough stones built as a memorial or landmark, typically on a hilltop or skyline) was used in place of a cross to reflect the local custom. In the several Commonwealth cemeteries in the mountains of Italy, Blomfield’s design was replaced with a Latin cross made of rough square blocks of red or white stone.



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